Body found in Jacumba Hot Springs is identified as missing La Jolla scientist

Derek Barge
Derek Barge was a La Jolla resident who was working as a scientist at a Torrey Pines-based biotech start-up and as a senior software engineer for a Santa Barbara technology consulting firm.
(Courtesy of San Diego County Sheriff’s Department)

Physicist Derek Barge was last seen alive July 31 at DeAnza Springs Resort. His body was found nearby Aug. 29.


Authorities have identified a body found late last month by hikers near a Jacumba Hot Springs campground resort as that of a La Jolla physicist who went missing from the resort about a month earlier.

Hikers discovered Derek Michael Barge’s body Aug. 29 along a dry creek bed about a half-mile east of DeAnza Springs Resort, according to the San Diego County medical examiner’s office.

Barge was last seen alive July 31 at the resort on Carrizo Gorge Road north of Interstate 8, where he was staying while on his way to visit family in Arizona, according to a sheriff’s detective and Barge’s family. His last known contact was a phone call that night with his mother.

Campers at the resort reported Barge missing the next morning. His vehicle was still parked nearby, with his wallet and keys inside, as well as what appeared to be his personal property, according to sheriff’s Detective Bradley Farr. His phone and charger were found that morning near a trailhead southeast of the resort.

Sheriff’s deputies and search-and-rescue teams, with help from the U.S. Border Patrol, searched for Barge for several days, with temperatures soaring above 100 degrees.

Barge’s 41st birthday passed in early August with his whereabouts still unknown.

Even after the hikers located Barge’s body, it took two days for authorities to be able to retrieve it, with help from a California Highway Patrol aircraft, according to the medical examiner’s office.

Barge’s cause of death is still pending, the medical examiner’s office said, though Farr said foul play is not suspected. Identifying his remains took nearly a week due to the condition of the body.

According to Barge’s family, as well as his LinkedIn profile and scientific research sites, Barge earned a doctorate in physics from UC Santa Barbara in 2014 and a bachelor’s degree in physics from that university in 2003. He also earned a master’s degree in physics in 2006 from Northwestern University near Chicago.

During his doctoral research, Barge helped conduct searches for dark matter and the Higgs boson, an elusive subatomic particle key to understanding how objects have mass. He did so by analyzing data from the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, near Geneva, Switzerland.

Barge’s name appears on hundreds of published research papers, alongside the names of other scientists who were conducting research on the same topics.

At the time of his death, Barge was working as a scientist at a Torrey Pines-based biotech start-up and as a senior software engineer for a Santa Barbara technology consulting firm.

In a statement, Barge’s family called him “an ocean-obsessed punk rocker, culinarian, walking encyclopedia and world traveler” who loved both nature and big cities and made friends everywhere he went. ◆